CORVALLIS, Ore. – A researcher at Oregon State University has used a new method of combining multiple sources of data to identify counties in Oregon with high numbers of methamphetamine-related problems per capita, giving officials a new tool in fighting the illegal drug.
The study, presented today at a toxicology conference in Canada, examined statistics from four sources then identified five counties with the most meth-linked incidents per capita, such as deaths, poisonings and places where meth is made.
"This method of combining different types of data – like health statistics and the location of illicit labs – to assess Oregon's methamphetamine problem is a new approach toward studying a significant public health concern," said OSU associate professor Dr. Daniel Sudakin, the study's author. "There are a lot of people analyzing the issue of methamphetamine, but they do it from different angles. For example, some focus on health problems, others focus on hazardous chemical releases from meth labs.
“This OSU study incorporates information about when and where these incidents occurred, giving us a bigger picture of what's going on across the state,” Sudakin added. “It also includes rural areas, which tend not to be studied as much as urban areas in terms of meth use and production."
Sudakin, a medical toxicologist and epidemiologist, said his study and method of analyzing multiple sources of data could help public health and policy officials to more effectively allocate funds and other resources for substance abuse treatment and prevention to areas of the state that need them most.
The study gathered countywide data on 2,570 meth-related incidents documented by the Oregon Poison Control Center, the Oregon Narcotics Enforcement Association, the Oregon State Police's Medical Examiner Division and the Oregon Public Health Division's Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance System. The statistics ran from 1998-2007, although each group of data didn't span this entire period.
The data included deaths connected with the stimulant; the discovery of places were meth was made; the release of dangerous fumes and chemicals from these "labs;" the accidental ingestion of toxic chemicals used to make the addictive drug; the haphazard dumping of waste from the labs; and calls to the Oregon Poison Control Center regarding overdoses and other meth-related concerns. The study, however, didn't include crime-related data like arrests for possession of meth. Sudakin then analyzed the data using a computer software program called SaTScan, which epidemiologists use to map diseases and other health concerns and determine if they're clustered in specific locations and time periods.
The analysis found that on a per-capita basis, these problems were most common in sparsely populated, rural Umatilla County when compared with other counties and the state overall, which has a population of about 3.7 million. The study determined that every time a lab or dump site was discovered, it was 11.5 times more likely to be in Umatilla County than in any other part of the state. When a meth-related spill, leak or other hazardous substance release was reported, it was 8.3 times more likely to be in Umatilla County, which is in a wheat-growing belt in northeastern Oregon and has slightly more than 70,000 residents.
After Umatilla, Sudakin's study identified Multnomah, Marion, Linn and Lincoln counties as having significant meth-related problems per capita, but it did not rank these four counties. In Multnomah County, labs and dump sites were 1.4 times more likely to be found there than in the rest of the state, and meth-related deaths were 2.1 times more likely to occur there. In Linn County, hazardous releases of meth-related substances were four times more likely to take place there than in the rest of the Oregon, and deaths connected to meth were 1.2 times more likely.
The Public Health Division documented 43 meth labs in Umatilla County between 1998 and 2005, making it the county with the second-highest number of labs and giving it 15 percent of the statewide total. Multnomah ranked first with 88. The health division emphasized that the numbers are conservative given that they only include labs that had been operating within 72 hours leading up to their discovery.
Sudakin's study found that meth labs in Oregon have decreased since Oregon became the first state in the country in 2005 to pass a law to require a prescription to obtain cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, which is used to make meth. The law took effect in July 2006.
"There has been substantial progress in reducing the number of methamphetamine laboratories across the state, but there are still significant problems with the abuse of the drug in Oregon," said Sudakin, who teaches environmental and molecular toxicology.
Clandestine meth labs are typically found in motel rooms, apartments and rental properties. The drug is made from common household items that are available at supermarkets and hardware stores. When these ingredients are mixed, they generate a large amount of chemical waste. It's typically dumped down the drain but may be stored, buried or dumped elsewhere.
Sudakin discussed his findings today at the North American Congress of Clinical Toxicology in Toronto, Canada. He will present the study again at 11 a.m. on Sept. 20 at OSU during an annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest Association of Toxicologists.
The study is called Regional and Temporal Variation in Methamphetamine-Related Incidents and was funded by Oregon Health and Science University's Medical Research Foundation.